To explain the emotions I have felt during the last few days is not going to be easy, but I am going to try. I thought the London Marathon was going to be mostly about the running, I was wrong. Believe me, I did a lot of running (in fact to my delight I didn’t even stop from start to finish), but the overwhelming memories surrounding the event are about people and feelings, not feet on tarmac.
There has been a gradual build up of support over the last few weeks with more and more people very generously sponsoring my British Heart Foundation (BHF) campaign which was really touching (thank you again – £3,100+ raised). As the day got closer people started wishing me good luck when they saw me in person, on Facebook and via text. The first real lump in my throat was when I got a good luck card. How thoughtful and kind for someone to take the time to do that? Then the cards kept on coming. The most special one was from a friend telling me the story of how the BHF supported her and her family when she found out that her unborn baby boy had a major heart problem. They were told not to buy clothes for baby because he may not survive. Imagining the horror of being told that makes me cry even as I write this . . but I know that that little baby is now a fun-loving 5 year old and winning his battle. By the time I was lacing up my shoes on Sunday morning to set off for the start I had had so many good luck wishes it was incredible. I was starting to feel the pressure as I didn’t want to let anyone down.
Before the race I met up with a friend who was also running. It was wonderful to share the nerves and emotions of the pre-race build up in Greenwich Park. I thought I was holding it together pretty well until my friend had to go to the blue start whilst I went on my own into red. I had to take a few deep breaths at that point to keep from crying – I really didn’t know what I was letting myself in for . . .
Then fate played its wonderful hand. I knew several ladies from Lincoln (the Lincoln ladies as I fondly call them) were running too and we had a loose arrangement to meet up at the red start, but my mobile phone didn’t work as 36,000 other people were trying to make calls too. I resigned myself to not being able to find them and having to start alone. But I pulled myself together, handed in my stuff to the baggage lorry and went off to join the longest toilet queue in the world (everything is long about the marathon!). I was busy trying to find a queue shorter than three miles when I heard someone shout my name – it was the Lincoln Ladies and they were near the front of the loo queue! I looked up and thanked the angels in heaven for shining down on me. I think they had a word about the weather too because the forecast rain never arrived and it stayed dry all day.
So we made our way to the start – we were right at the back, even behind the mad ones dressed as rhinos. We joined the huge huddle of people and waited, surrounded by superman, an elephant, a lighthouse and several people in tutus. What a crowd! All of a sudden there was a surge and we were off. And by off I mean shuffling forward at a snail’s pace. It took us 20 minutes just to get to the start, but once over the line, we did manage to get into a jog pretty quickly . . by then us Lincoln ladies had all got separated, which we were expecting as we all run at different paces, there had never been an intention to run together.
So here I was. Me, the marathon, and the crowds. Everyone says this. You know what is coming next. The crowds are indeed amazing. If they see you struggling a bit they shout your name, they tell you ‘you’ve got this,’ they put a smile on your face.
My family were out on the course, I roughly knew where they would be and it passed a good mile or two, scanning the crowds and looking out for my loved ones. I was so delighted when I saw them . . it was as if I hadn’t seen them for years and years . .when in fact I had only just seen them at breakfast. Something else which is very hard to explain . . the emotion of the day is so concentrated that everything is magnified.
I was enjoying myself. Then I got to mile 11 and my knee started to really hurt. I carried on and so did the pain. I managed to take a sneaky couple of painkillers that I had put in my waist pouch ‘just in case’ and carried on. And so did the pain. But so did the crowds – they carried on with their shouts and the pain killers worked a little bit. I pulled myself together again, and just kept on going.
Just after mile 12 you come to Tower Bridge. For me this was the highlight of the race. I can’t explain whether it is the height over the river, the sky either side of you, the crowds packed in, the music, the cheers, the iconic bridge, the fact that you know you are nearly half way . . but in that moment . . in spite of my leg . . everything felt fantastic.
After that, things became harder. I was enjoying myself less. I was desperate not to stop but my leg was hurting. I kept looking around reminding myself that this was supposed to be fun, but it wasn’t. I was hurting. ‘I must be mad. What was I thinking? I’m never doing this again. For goodness sake what possessed . . .’ ‘Come on Jo . .you got this!’ The crowd would interrupt my inner monologue to remind me that I could do it. There were lots of motivational banners people were holding up, but the one that kept me going said ‘Pain is temporary, 26.2 is forever.’ I wanted that forever – I would not stop.
Long distance running, in my opinion, is your body and mind battling with themselves. ‘Stop! No I want to do a good time. Stop! You are in pain. No! I want to run the whole thing. Ouch! Stop. No don’t stop – get going!’ It is very hard to explain but I think that battle, that sense of pushing yourself way outside of your comfort zone, is where a lot of the emotion comes from.
The miles continued . . . A vicar sprinkled holy water on me, a rhino moved out of my way, another runner pointed out my family, people are indeed supportive . . . but if I’m honest, on the day, in the moment, at that point, I didn’t feel it as much as I thought I would. I think this was because the overwhelming voice in my head was about my hurting knee.
Eventually I got to the embankment which is quite close to the end. The millennium wheel was on my left, I was looking at it and saying to myself ‘come on Jo, take this in, it’s a moment you should treasure for ever’.
All I heard though, was ‘my leg is killing me, only two and half more miles at this pace it should be less than half an hour then I can stop . . so keep going. 26.2 is forever’.
I got to Buckingham Palace which is within touching distance of the end at the top of the mall. Even then I was struggling to feel the joy and counting down the steps to the finish that was in my sights! A. few. more. seconds. I was there! I was over the line, I’d done it! So I started walking, which very quickly turned into limping. They gave me my medal and my goodie bag and I went to retrieve my baggage from the lorry which had magically appeared at the finish. It all worked like clockwork but I was in a complete daze. I do remember photographers taking my picture but mostly I remember I could hardly walk. I shuffled to the place where I said I would meet my family and waited. A few moments on my own just to sit on a step and reflect . . but I still wasn’t computing anything. I thought I would cry when my loved ones arrived but I didn’t. Looking back now I think I was numb. Or in shock. Or both. The first words I said to my lovely friend who came down to see me finish were ‘never do that.’
An hour or so later I was in the car heading back up the A1 for home. It was during that journey that things started to change. My phone beeped continuously the whole journey with people congratulating me and saying well done and making me feel so special that I could hardly believe it. I started to feel proud. I started to recognise the achievement. The warmth, the love, the emotion that I had struggled to feel on the course all came pouring in . . . . before I even got home the memories of the pain were fading and the joy of the day was beginning to take over. When I pulled up on the drive and my wonderful next door neighbour had decorated the whole outside of my house with ‘Congratulations’ banners and pictures of my finishing time (4.48 hrs) and the images of me that my husband had posted on Facebook. I couldn’t believe it.
Me running the marathon had touched so many people. So many friends and family told me they tracked me all the way via the London Marathon website. My family were totally amazing. My friends were totally amazing. The crowds were totally amazing. They cared. They shared. They made the day. Thank you from the very bottom of my heart.
As I write this the marathon was 4 days ago. I am already researching which one to do next. I can hardly remember the pain and thanks to my fabulous physio my legs aren’t even hurting anymore.
When I look at the photographs my face is beaming. I’m smiling on nearly of them. How is it possible that I look so happy when that wasn’t how I was feeling at the time. I must have been much happier than I thought! What a complex day of mixed emotions . .
I wanted to write this blog to remind myself how much it did hurt, but also as a way of capturing the day, the wonderful memories of the support I received from my fabulous friends and family and as a way of explaining how amazing we humans are. Why does my memory choose to forget the pain and remember the joy? I don’t know . . but I’m really glad it does.